Home Accessibility Bill Soon to See The Light

A "lost" bill hugely popular with disability advocates and senate candidates that offers tax incentives for making homes accessible to those with disabilities was found mired in the legislative process and will come out soon, according to its sponsor.

The concept for the bill, which would create minimum regulations for new construction and tax incentives for retrofitting homes to provide accessibility and usability for Virgin Islanders with physical disabilities, first arose several years ago. In 2009 it was the subject of an annual mock session of the Legislature in which senior citizens assumed the roles of sitting senators and debated a bill of interest to seniors.

At a recent candidate forum sponsored by the V.I. University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, several sitting senators said they knew of and supported the concept of the bill, but it had never been placed on the agenda for committee hearings.

"There is a senator blocking this bill," Sen. Sammuel Sanes said at the forum. "Call your senator today if you want to see this happen."

Mark Vinzant, who as head of the V.I. Coalition for Visitability helped write up a rough draft of the bill, said those with disabilities, those who are getting older and want to remain in their own homes, as well as their families and friends, would all benefit if simple, inexpensive changes were made to the designs of the first floors and bathrooms of new homes. The version he drafted would offer a 20 percent property tax abatement for 10 years for both new construction and any retrofits on existing homes.

"This is something a lot of us would like to see happen in the 28th Legislature," Vinzant said Tuesday. The 28th Legislature ends when those elected in November take office next January.

Vinzant said he had been informed the bill was being held by Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone. Asked for comment, Sen. Malone said in an email that the bill would be coming along shortly and he had been unaware it was assigned under his name.

"I was not made aware that I had authorship rights to the bill until late this summer when (VIUCEDD Director Yegin Habtes) called my office to notify us based on information he obtained from our Senate president," Malone said in his email. It was apparently assigned to him without his knowledge by then-Sen. Jimi Weber when Weber left office, Malone said.

"Nonetheless, it is my legislation and I have asked our Legal Counsel to draft the bill and have it ready for my review," he said.

Once he sees an acceptable draft, it will be returned to the Legislature’s legal counsel so the Senate president can assign it to either Health, Hospitals and Human Services Committee chaired by Sen. Patrick Sprauve or to Sen. Neville James’ Financial Services, Infrastructure and Consumer Affairs Committee, Malone said.

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